Big Wins in 2019 Sets Tone for 2020

Auto Workers Prevail

A grueling 40-day strike by United Auto Workers members against General Motors ended with ratification of a new contract that takes positive steps to address a two-tier wage structure and “permanent temporary workers.” Our Brothers and Sisters at the GM plant in Arlington were among the 48,000 workers affected by the walkout. Shortly afterward, Ford and Chrysler reached contracts with UAW without strikes.

Intrepid Steelworkers Tough It Out 

Members of the United Steelworkers at plants owned by Dow Chemical in Deer Park withstood a seven-week-long lockout that was resolved after a steady buildup of local, state and national support for the 235 working families. Ahead of the lockout, USW Local 13-1 showed solidarity nearing the 100 percent mark in rejecting an outrageous company contract offer. USW later joined other unions agitating on another front, launching a strike at ASARCO that includes workers in Amarillo. The strike has passed the 10-week mark. 

Airline Catering Workers: One Job Should Be Enough! 

UNITE HERE members in Dallas and Houston led raucous airport rallies to call attention to poverty wages paid to catering workers and others who serve airlines that are making billions of dollars a year in profits. Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay joined activists across the labor movement who were arrested at a Dallas rally. In building the rallies, UNITE HERE raised its profile as a champion of low-wage workers. In Houston, the union’s work with SEIU Texas led to establishment of a phased-in $12 an hour minimum wage for airport contractors. Major solidarity that helped the process came from the Transport Workers Union, Flight Attendants and other airline unions.

Carpenters Battle Texas Sop to Gig Companies 

The Central South Carpenters Regional Council joined the Texas AFL-CIO in leading opposition to a hastily adopted Texas Workforce Commission rule that exempts “gig economy” companies from paying for Unemployment Insurance. The blanket rule shortchanges companies that take the high road in offering benefits to their employees and sets a dangerous precedent. The Carpenters helped shine a light on the shady leadup to adoption of the rule based on lobbying by the gig company Handy.

New Citizens, Workplace Rights

The Texas AFL-CIO Citizenship Program held drives in cities across Texas, helping hundreds of eligible residents navigate the complex naturalization application process. The program is landing more and more Texans in citizenship ceremonies and into status as voters who can raise their voices for workplace rights without fear of retaliation. On a semi-related front, the Texas AFL-CIO launched a Census Ambassador program to help achieve a complete population count in 2020.

 AFGE Builds Voice in Adversity 

Federal workers, many of whom are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, stood tall during the longest shutdown in government history – a 35-day fiasco that began in late 2018 and ended Jan. 25. Labor unions stepped up in solidarity, including a food drive at the Texas AFL-CIO Building that raised two tons of donations. It wasn’t just AFGE: Members of the International Association of Machinists kept the International Space Station operating at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, without pay or custodial services. After the shutdown, AFGE faced new and unprecedented direct attacks by the White House on its ability to organize and administer the union. In a remarkable turn of events, however, Congress approved paid parental leave for federal employees in a late-year compromise.

Solidarity Without Borders 

An international delegation of labor leaders, including officers and staff of the AFL-CIO, Texas AFL-CIO and national unions, converged on El Paso to build solidarity among working families in the U.S. and Mexico. The activities included delivery of clothing and supplies to families seeking refuge in the U.S. from violence in their home countries, a listening session with surviving victims of the Walmart shooting, and rallies and conversations supporting comprehensive immigration reform and an end to “the politics of hate.”

Plumbers Heroically Rewrite Legislative Script

Unionized Plumbers in Texas worked with their non-union counterparts to kill legislation that would have undermined state safety regulation of the plumbing industry. When some lawmakers retaliated by allowing the Board of Plumbing Examiners to expire – potentially letting anyone in Texas offer plumbing services – Plumbers persuaded Gov. Greg Abbott to continue the board and revisit the matter in the next Legislature. Among several amazing moments of solidarity: a Capitol rally on the importance of safety in plumbing that drew thousands of attendees.

Teachers Win for Their Students 

Texas teachers, prominently including the Texas American Federation of Teachers, led the way to achieving a major education reform bill that delivered pay raises for teachers and other public-school employees, reversing a trend in which Texas scaled back on education funding. AFT cautioned that the measure is a first step, but the legislation offered some relief to school districts that have shouldered more and more of the cost of educating Texas children.

Voting Rights Win at Legislature

Amid a high-profile campaign by a coalition that prominently included labor unions, the Texas Senate declined to confirm Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominee as Texas Secretary of State. The drive to bust David Whitely took off after Whitley released a bogus list of voters and voter registrants who allegedly may not have been eligible to cast ballots. The suggestion some on the list had committed felonies was blown up by a simple fact: Whitley’s list of non-citizen residents was years old, and virtually all the people on the list had been naturalized or were already eligible to vote, including the sister of Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay. Whitley never obtained the two-thirds support needed to win confirmation and resigned near the end of the legislative session.

United Labor Legislative Committee Shines 

ULLCO, the coalition of labor unions that advocates for working families at the Texas Legislature, stopped dozens of seriously bad legislative proposals, both alone and in coalition with allies. For the first time in several legislative sessions, no bill was filed to end payroll dues deduction for public employees (though ULLCO staved off an amendment on the subject late in the legislative session). In a landmark victory, unions joined allies in stopping a high-priority push led by Gov. Greg Abbott to ban cities from enacting paid sick leave ordinances. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Texas State Employees Union/CWA, Fire Fighters, Texas American Federation of Teachers and other public-sector unions took leads in mitigating damage to the ability of local governments to advocate for working families. Other legislative wins were spurred by improvements in the 2018 elections, though working families remain well short of the support needed to get wage, healthcare and other key fair shot legislation enacted into law. 

Ruth Ellinger Participants Graduate and Rise Up 

The Texas AFL-CIO’s Ruth Ellinger Labor Leaders School graduated its third class at the Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention and a fourth class began participating in union activism around the state. Participants meet several times for intensive instruction and hands-on labor activities that run the gamut of union activism. Graduates have gone on to officer and other leadership positions in their unions, Central Labor Councils and the Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board.

Summits Build Leadership 

Young Active Labor Leaders, a Texas AFL-CIO constituency group for workers under age 35, held its second statewide summit in Houston. Among other things, the organization provides forums and launch points for union members to build their voices in the Texas labor movement. The inaugural Texas AFL-CIO Women’s Summit elevated labor issues that especially concern women. A second Women’s Summit will take place in 2020.

Building Trades Unions Organize, Promote Apprenticeships 

Across the state, Building Trades unions that include Electrical Workers, Iron Workers, Painters, Steelworkers, Laborers, Plumbers and others advocated strongly for high-road policies that offer working families a path to the middle class. In a major development, registered apprenticeship programs have taken center stage in the City of Houston’s ongoing program to rebuild in the long-term aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The Building Trades culture of organizing paid off in several victories, as well as in public advocacy.

Connecting Bad Tax Policy to Job Losses 

Labor’s goal of enabling solid middle-class jobs to evolve and grow included an ongoing battle against off-shoring, excesses of automation and other factors in a toxic mix aimed in large part at driving down wages. Prime example: The Communications Workers of America in Texas tied AT&T’s move to cut 12,000 jobs across the nation, including many in Texas, to the company’s bonanza under corporate and billionaire tax cut program that the union calls the “GOP Tax Scam.” CWA became a leading voice pointing up that the promises that the new tax law would add jobs have not played out at AT&T and other giant beneficiaries of the corporate giveaway.  

Working People at U.S. Postal Service Stand Tall

The campaign to save the U.S. Postal Service as we know it gained ground in 2019, thanks in large part to the work in Texas of the National Association of Letter Carriers, American Postal Workers Union and other USPS unions. Polling suggests USPS remains the most popular government agency, and labor activists gained ground in educating the public about the advantages of building a USPS for the future.

New Constituency Group 

Delegates to the Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention created the Texas AFL-CIO Veterans Committee, which will work closely with the Union Veterans Council of the AFL-CIO to develop programs that honor the strong connection between the Texas union movement and military service. The Committee will advocate along the intersection between veterans and fair shot issues.  

Digital Advances 

The Texas AFL-CIO stepped up its social media reach. A Nov. 22 Facebook post responding to the “10-year challenge” by posting the unchanged $7.25 an hour minimum wage for both 2009 and 2019 set a state federation record with 17,000 shares and more than 1.6 million people reached. More to come.

The Fight Continues

Texas unions continued to wage historic long-term Texas battles on behalf of working families. For the safety of the public, SMART (International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers) again advocated for a law to set a minimum of two crew members on freight trains. Seafarers fought for stronger safety rules in Texas ports. United Food & Commercial Workers made further inroads in organizing low-wage working families. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees achieved a collective bargaining agreement for rigging and audiovisual services at the Austin Convention Center and at Palmer Auditorium. And when any union asked for help to advance the cause of working families, other unions stepped up, building solidarity as working families enter an important political moment of truth.